tv Book Discussion on One Righteous Man CSPAN August 9, 2015 8:00pm-9:01pm EDT
>> >> his early years were years of great rambunctious as. he was a big young man. when he was born it was recorded he was 15 and a half pounds and the largest child born in the vicinity. later on in life he would sam was born march and so i live large. that was true. when samuel battle was 16 he left his family for the north on his own and he heard stories about the
glories of new york city about the brooklyn bridge and has seen family members that don't a trucking company a horse drawn moving company in brookline and they seem to rule the world to him so he set his sights of leaving the south to head north to make his way at the edge of 16. that led him today york at the turn of the century. the large outgoing and winning personality was such that he entered a black culture in and he got to know all the artist and the writers and the sports figures he'd met schomburg the cape him blessed space
school and 14 within eight grade education you'll never get anywhere unless you start to read you have to read and read and read and he did. and he eventually he could claim a library of hundreds of books to read the rise and fall of the roman empire so there he was in new york on his own going to work at grand central depot terminal had not yet been built. end around 1909 he decides he needs a better job. one with a pension and steady pay and the police
department offer that. costs he was going to get married and he wanted to support a wife and children so he set his sights on becoming a copper co -- a cop. fidelity and t. institute was closed to blacks that the day. he had to study on his own the civil service test at that time was different from today. it was a test that required a great deal of knowledge. it was not an aptitude test but knowledge about new york city, the law, other regulations, police procedures. he aced the test for:and then found his way on to the police
force and from there he had great difficulty, he became new york city's first black cop, first black sergeant, first black attendant, a trusted aide to mayor la guardia and close friend of first lady eleanor roosevelt. so his life to me is a testament what one man can do with courage and determination and he was heroic with everything he did including his own family. he raised a terrific family. made sure his three children went to terrific college and he sent them off into life. all of this happened on will
be for a civil-rights movement that he knew of four well before equal opportunity laws or before anyone but in fact, they redo what they could to stop him. how do i know all of this? how was it possible that 60 years after he dies, more than a century he is on the police force, i can define not only what he did but what he thought, his aspirations were? it turns out in 2009 the
eric city named the corner of 135th street and lenox avenue bus samuel battle plaza a seminal even in his career had taken place there. "the daily news", for which i have worked since 1973, wrote a small story about a. they called him the jackie robinson of the new york city police department. it struck me at that point having covered new york city for more than three decades, i had never thought of who the first black man on the force had been and how it had taken place. so i set out to find out thinking it could be a terrific story.
newspapers of the day had written about him but essentially they had the same 20 or 25 stories about samuel battle getting on the force, had some difficulty, promoted, involv ed in the case here and there but nothing to write a book about. then i asked the police department, who had showed up at this sign posting that whoever was there may have added interest and made known something in that led me to samuel battle grandson who lived in california. his name is tony. he lived with battle and tell he was about 10 years old. he had little boy memories of a large imposing
great-grandfather that he adored. that was helpful but then he said to me, i did i know that in 1949 samuel battle had hired an excuse to write his biography? but it had never been published and he had the manuscript. so there i had a manuscript of samuel battle talking about his own life in the first person. i also discovered in his papers at yale university that battle had written on his life is long and to want -- to langston hughes. on a legal pad.
it was not a good man and a great man and the findings were stunning. why was the book never published? one issue win samuel battle hired langston hughes, he was long past his glory years. he was a wonder paul witt during the harlem renaissance of very young man when he wrote his early masterpieces that still stand today. then he spent many years trying to fulfill what he hoped was his destiny to be a black writer who could earn a living as a black
writer in a way that nobody else had done to that day. so when battle came to him, langston hughes needed money and he paid him $1,500. they got to work but it was not what langston hughes wanted to urdu. he had bigger projects in mind bigger artistic projects operettas are of musicals. sova to his biography was not top on his agenda. the product that he eventually produced some 80,000 words is pure liro cold brilliance with long passages they you have
difficulty following sometimes. you don't know who the people are that are being referred to, and there is no real narrative drive. worse than that, these two men there was no real mainstream publisher who was ready to publish a biography of a strong black hero who challenged the are prevailing racism of the time, particularly the new york police department. so it was all put away. and it sat 65 years and tell i happen to come across tony who told me he had the manuscript.
from there it was a question of recreating the life to find out what they were actually talking about and from the vantage point of 60 years later, and the lessons learned since then of their day of the civil-rights movement to stand above it to put everything into the understandable context and hope that it made a great narratives. it was a real voyage of discovery about langston hughes and samuel battle. but also new york city. i hope in channeling these two men, that this book also
tells a history of new york city from a point of view that has rarely ever been told. which is the point of view of black new yorkers because the events that take place that battling counters on the police force and because his career stretches so far and is involved with so many important people, i believe the eliminates all the major turning points of black history in new york from 1900 through his death in 1966. and the portrait of new york will be as surprising to people and shame provoking, if he will, as
battles story is inspiring. that is my hope, if you read it. you tell me. so now i will do a little bit of reading to understand the context. and i will take you through various episodes in samuel battles life. i will start early. at this point samuel battle is 14 years old. he was a large young man when full grown 6-foot 2 inches to under 40 pounds a boxer, a tough guy, had to be to survive on the new york city police department and could brawl if he had to but as a young man, even though his father was a minister in the church been
incredibly strict disciplinarian, he had a wild streak and was known as though bully boy a. to the blacks and to the whites because he had insistence, even then to be treated with dignity. >> early on battle had intellectual and emotional intelligence. he is to be observed a the world and easily mastered reading, writing and arithmetic not they he was much interested. adventurousness propelled him to roam the streets and fields and river banks. one head taller and beefier than his peers, blessed with strength and athleticism and
unencumbered by the behavioral expectations of bondage. as a member of the first post slavery generation, a battle was free to be able way not a boy. he recounted force use a episode that brought to life the glimpse at the u.s. insistence on dignity that was bred into battle spirit. i passed the home of a prominent white family, the bryans. on the sidewalk one of the boys was playing marbles so i stopped. and i was sure i could beat any of them and said i would like to shoot marbles. i can be to any of view i bet. i stooped down to play and
they said to me, forgive my language, we don't want no niggers here. mr. brian sun said that. we don't want no niggers in here. s he did i slapped him with my right hand on this side of the face. and the boy's screams because i had a powerful hand. i was the big strong husky fellow. there were five or six white boys the rest were afraid to even tackle me. his mother ran out and said what is your name boy? we will have you arrested. i said my name is john browne. and i walked away. the bride envoy's father was a lawyer and it happened there really was a colored boy in town named john
browne so they got a warrant when the police found him young brian was not the boy who struck him but it did not take them long to discover that it was tom's son who wanted to fight brian. says my father was well known to the white people and respected by all of them , the the warrant was withdrawn and instead mr. bryan said word to my father to come see him and bring me along. he went to the back door. he still had the marks of my hand. when my father saw his face and learned what i had done, i had struck go white boy my father offered to let mr. bryan for his son with
me -- whip me. i said i will die first i will let you whip me but not to anyone else on worth in - - under. nobody said a word so i said you can't whip me but nobody else. seeing that i meant what i said my father whip me himself in front of a white boy and his father. the white family accepted as satisfactory. i checked my father's punishment and did not shed one to your. nothing in the world could have made me cry.
>> that, i think is the essence of samuel battle. and it is a characteristic that carried him all the way through his life no matter what happened to him, he was prepared to take it if he had to because it would get him so wherever he would not cry and he would not back down. and it comes true for him when he decides when he comes to new york and to join the police department. now to set the scene for that, we are now in about 1909. samuel battle is working as a red cap at grand central depot. there is a great man there
named chief williams and he happened to be black. he went to the depot at a time that the vanderbilt railroad needed people who would carry luggage. he talked his way to be a porter. but he was so good at it, he became trusted, more responsibility, and then when he saw they needed more reporters, he went to all the young black men he knew and said the i can give you a job by have got to know the you will do a good job. because they can have anybody not do a good job because they will collect
any more of us didn't. so he eventually became the hiring agent for the red caps eventually building the force into 400 young black men and creating the first job opportunities for thousands of also inventing the little red feather that became the redcap that was chief james williams invention. so when battle went to work for him there he met and carry the bags of roosevelt, jack johnson, caruso, the big traders and artist of the day, he got to know them all. and caruso introduced him to italian food. [laughter] he read their novels and could talk to them about
them, the cardinal, he had a winning personality. then he meets a young woman. her name was florence. she was from virginia. she was 16 and he is in his early 20s. they fell in love. he introduced her to her first alcoholic drink of west 53rd street and at that time west 53rd was the center of black culture in new york. the hotel marshall was the first great hotel with first-rate entertainment, very cabaret where all the black professionals lived and worked around that area. he brought her there, they
courted and decided to get married and then he knew he needed a better job. coincidence with that, in 1909, with white to lung black rioting has broken out in springfield illinois a. the writing that became the german nation for the naacp. that activism begins, black ministers of new york begin to advocate to open the police department to blacks. they have no idea that samuel battle is interested. he doesn't speak to them but just doesn't on his own he is denied entry to civil servants he works all day and studies of late with florence and tell he falls asleep and takes the test
and he aces the test. then the police department figures out of black guy is about to be appointed a copper co what will they do? the police sergeant steps forward to say he can because he has a heart murmur. they make it up. he finds his way to a top white physician of the data gives him an honest evaluation. and they are forced to receptive. plan dash accepted. so then samuel battle joins the police department. get that plane he had one son named jesse.
and then they said no more issues to close. jesse's loved in the shadows in the small apartment while florence prepared breakfast. the rain and heat was heavy even this early. battle was tubed and scrubbed and put on the in a foreign debt lundy uniform in the summer it discarded the high butting codes for light fabric. the year round trousers a built-in holster with a revolver and a helmet whose show offered some protection from bricks tossed off the roofs as now and then as irish confetti.
he kissed his son and wife and went with the confidence that carried him from childhood with the goodness of human nature and undaunted by the difficulties that had risen. from a distance he saw the crowd in front of the station house. there is the nigger. they said he looks just like jack johnson and also he is a burly bastard. 18t a fine looking rand. there was no sign anything was unusual taking place so any time he could be accepted as one more cop it alleges to repulse the
attack inside the elevated platform was a desk that dominated the central room. come-from-behind college kennesaw the execution of the laws as well as compliance with the orders that govern the police officer's life. he went to the rumor officers congregated. good morning. put the group responded with coordinated silence. soon a sergeant announced assignments thank caved battle a post in a well-to-do neighborhood along riverside drive between west 79th street and west 86th street. then battled joined the
march outside her for a superior officer inspected uniforms and equipment. summon the crowd referred to him as a nigger. when the order came to disperse he set off a trail by spectators. this silence was more than the statement of racial scorn but also of weapon. how to yield a nightstick and east and a street corner tutorial was critical there
endearment she said jesse i am proud of you. the next day and the day after that and after that, about a return to to the silence and the steering. his primary duty was to direct horse-drawn vehicles while standing on display and as if he were a circus performer. everybody came by edwin the streetcars would pass the motorman would ring the bells and they would say look over there at the first colored police man. the sightseeing buses would come along to announce here is new york's first caller policemen. then those that drove the bus is on a sightseeing tours would bring people down from different parts of this city from harlem to charge $1 each to take them
to see the colored police rand. -- me and. his work chart is scheduled his first reserve duty the thursday after he started patrol. reserve duty in those days much, there were no police cars. if there was an emergency emergency, there would have to call out a lot of cops so several nights a week and had to sleep at the station house and they had dormitory's kind i'd like the fire department but large contingents would sleep in the station house. finishing been a shift committee was to sleep in the station house with the platoon on call in case of the emergency.
the mystery to of overworked men and discarded shoes. the officers for from the station house resolved this is a white only domain and they carry their cots upstairs with a store the american flag and left the mattresses under old glory as the black man accommodations. without complaint he went up to the loft several times the captain named paul over with a fellow officers just fine he reported. i don't expect that meant to talk to me and take me into their arms as a brother. inevitably newspaper reporters, he was subjected to isolation he held firm to
voicing no unhappiness. interviewed by the times three weeks later battle major to state that no officer had uttered offensive epithets and reported i have nothing to say about them when asked about his fellow officers refusal to speak to him. as if to make a much larger point he shared with the reporter the battle family lore handed down through wantage that they claim to aim citizenship history of his great-grandfather
was subject to achieve my appointment. my name was passed over repeatedly with all sorts of discouragements in my path and now after a long wait i finally was given a trial played into their ranks. with native born on the police force, all united as though i were not a human being. and lost in the dark with stars and stripes, i wondered why. >> battles difficulties and on the force extended several years. but through all of that, never once did he complain and he always
performed better than the white cops because he knew they had to be better if he would survive on the force. he wanted to be a sergeant but the civil service school would not accept him. one night in the summer of 1919, figure of the worst white on black violence in american history, when white tom black friday in swept cities across the country including washington d.c. and there was fear it would break out in new york, a battle was on duty september 15, 1919. that day, happened to be a
day of change. he remembered it was accustomed then all over manhattan to smash the straw hats of men who would forget to wear such head gear when the season for straw ended men would pounce upon the of where're to snatch the had to send a rolling down the street or bash it over his years. the custom was tolerated and generally considered amusing to everyone except the owner of a hat. after midnight september 15 a man that changed into street clothes at the station house, he was white and left the building for though walk to a subway interest -- entrance with a
straw hat on his head and the gun in the holster and the night was warm. a group of young blacks lying in wait who have very morning had passed the straw hat deadline than along came hayes with the civilian. they reached for his head and he identifies himself as a cop then he ordered the teenagers to move away and they complied. he then chased the ringleader in to a parlor to place him under arrest. lynn hayes returned to the sidewalk their teen set upon him again and broke his hat and freed in their french. in a twinkling "the new york times" reported hayes was battling for his life in was
felled by a blow that broke his jaw and was a target of kicks and blows is struggling to his feet he fired his gun mortally wounding a black man. on duty not far away battle raced to the gunfire by the time he was there me it looked more dash liberal the wielding a night stick striking right and left and he pushed through the mob to go through the helpless days he is the police man he was shouting to the attackers. we will mention any way hundreds of people flocked to the street carrying a white cop killed a black man. police reserves poured from the station house and they found a battle standing his
ground as hayes projector they launched into a drive to restore order other precincts sealed the area in the coming days. the black cop had saved the white cop from the rioting blacks. finally, in those moments of danger and bravery, a battle had done enough to win the gratitude of the department might rank-and-file they gave him a toehold of equal footing. some new he hoped to become a sergeant but was denied admission into the institute , a test preparation course was getting under way. the class voted unanimously to grant an entry for the first time conceding that a black man, this black
man, was fit to command whites. that was the start of battles rise up through the ranks. >> there are many, many more adventures he has like that. many more obstacles he has to overcome as he makes it all the way up to me -- to be eleanor roosevelt's friend. but i will close that eleanor roosevelt wrote about him as a foreword to the never published book. >> this is a record of a man's life. and as he tells it, you see not only what might but the struggles and victories and the defeat of a whole group of u.s. citizens. what courage it took, what remarkable stamina to be a first color police man in new york city. qualities of heart and body
that were purely personal but above everything else the realization he was fighting not for himself alone, but for his people. that comes out when each is one. congratulations on a life well lived. [applause] who has questions one? >> it is a wonderful story. after he entered the police force was is still stalled? >> it took two years before another black man would join the force then for several decades, the average number
of blacks who made it onto the force was only four or five per year. it took quite a long time but by the time he retired retired, by 1960 when he was looking back, there were several thousand. but it took a long time. no matter how many african americans made it onto the force, the proportion of the force was far less than the african-american proportion in the new york city population and that remains true today. >> i'm glad i stayed. [laughter] given the atmosphere of new york at times, a particularly issues with
policeman and color and i will not get into that but i wonder i am sure if you have written something like this, you probably have a book that people tell you where to go and to speak. i am wondering, i thought it would be a great book for a young black man. had to schedule any to worse >> yes. i will appear in numerous black churches and organizations over the next month. >> good for years. >> who did that for you? >>, . i can do that.
[laughter] is in a guy like to hear that. >> i talked to people. about who could be helpful edward be the most important places to go. who might want to hear the story. i have a number of churches. >> when did it become clear to battle that he was stalling on the biography? said relations our? >> he became very impatient. battles wife was even more impatient but when it was finished, they were optimistic. they thought it would work. battle was pleased.
after it was quickly rejected by the publishers, he retained someone else, and an elderly founder of the urban league that he had known for many years who he thought perhaps could give more historical context and debris did it just a little bit then changes were miniscule. but he was angry with langston hughes. >> it seems like every day somebody find the missing manuscripts from tennessee williams or fleming. this is such a fantastic story you would think his relatives or any magazine or somebody would be knowledgeable enough all these years? why did nothing ever
happened? >> as his family involved and descended, there was really only the grandson. he always wanted it done but i just happen to be the person who made the phone call. i never did ask him why didn't you seek out a writer before? i will see him tomorrow and i will ask kim. [laughter] >> in those early years did he have any involvement with them? to day care about promoting? because they have reached out. >> this is a little bit complicated.
tammany hall was as racist as any part of new york city. although the boss at the time his effort to switch blacks from their allegiance to the republican party to the democrats was the promise. if you vote for my candidate for mayor in, i will put blacks in every department of new york city government. it didn't come true but that is what he said. what happens, for battle at one point coming if you buy the book you can hear the whole thing. [laughter] he decides at tammany hall he crosses them and he pays an enormous price for it to.
twice in his life. in the end he said i can leave with my head high even though it hurt me. >> you made a connection in in the talk to young black men i wonder if there is a connection with white churches to talk to young white men to recruit considering this just happened with the white man in the black church. >> yes. one i will be engaged with the new york city police department with their recruiting drive and the commissioner is quite interested in the book and is recruiting people from
the book and training people who are interested in the book. so whenever the class's are, i will be speaking to them generally. i will attempt to help them with the recruitment of young blacks on to the police force and there are many organizations that are not black oriented the public library, historical society, and hunter college and other organizations run will be speaking so i think the audiences will be broader. but i did want to get to the black churches. >> will you sign the book? train wreck i will sign anything except a check. [laughter]
>> i am curious about the book, how did you change as you were writing this book? >> i will talk a little bit about my own racial history and development. with i was raised in long island. there in the early '50's it was strictly segregated town. blacks on the east side of main street and whites on the west side. the whites did not cross to the east side unless you were just driving through and never did i see a black in my neighborhood even though i've lived six blocks
from main street. and except and schools schools, racism among parents was openly expressed and in my own household my mother in particular would have none of it. i don't know why and then never spoke to her about it but it was forbidden to use a racial epithet in the house and no conversations. in the 1970's when i joined "the daily news", i read them from the time i was eight years old because my family was associated with it. i had no sense that it did not serve all of new york.
i had no sense that it was not open to black employment. but it was normal but it was also wrong. and overtime, covering new your and as a street reporter, a traveling around the city with housing projects and this is the time of the 1970's and 80's in particular when life was really dangerous, i saw how people lived out opportunity was denied. i was in those schools. and i don't think i have told this story to anybody but i will tell you.
a couple of white reporters we went to a black family's house. and it was in terrible condition and a young man there a young teenager when we left we talked about it and said what would we have done if we were born black? what would we be if every morning we got up to look in the mirror to see that our skin was black? this is the school we go to. over time i became more sensitive, coming to a greater realization of social injustice and aware
that there are many issues that remain to be dealt with and also very different perspectives on life that separate whites and blacks through the terrible history ended is so important to try to always bear that in mind when you approach any issue that has to do with race. and finally samuel battle dies when i am a teenager. it all brought the back to that is the way it was. i was on the other side.